ABSTRACT

In recent years, scholars have identified how disempowered, yet numerically vast, populations such as street vendors, slum residents and squatters have reconfigured the political landscape of cities in the Global South. Holston (1991), Bayat (2000) and Appadurai (2001), for instance, have documented the ability of such marginalised groups to claim resources and entitlements denied to them by the state. Taking this further, Mike Davis (2004), suggests that groups who make claims to space and livelihood outside of the formal structures of the law represent a vast, and as yet only partially explored, site of transformative politics. For Davis, despite their heterogeneous social make-up and alienation from ‘the culture of collective labour or large-scale class struggle’ (2004: 28) they may represent the future revolutionary subject which has the potential to be ‘reincorporated in a global emancipatory project’ (2004: 28). In light of these perspectives on urban informality, how should we understand Syed, quoted earlier? While he engages in daily struggles with the municipality and the police, he does not conform to the model of the radicalised, or subversive, urban subaltern; he does not urge an overturning of the discourses of urban development which render him a criminal, but instead insists, ‘we are businessmen too’. Moreover, instead of critiquing the law, he critiques the state itself for not following the law, for pursuing hawkers rather than real criminals. This is an unlikely urban ‘informal proletariat’ (Davis 2004: 5) of a future emancipatory politics.